Anti-superstition activist and Maharashtra’s most vocal rationalist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar (65) was shot dead by two youth on a motorcycle on the Omkareshwar bridge near Pune’s Shanivar Peth area while he was on a morning walk on Tuesday, Commissioner of Police of the city Gulabrao Pol said.
The gunmen fired three rounds and fled. Dabholkar received one bullet in the head and died instantly. He is survived by his wife Dr. Shaila Dabholkar, son Hamid and daughter Mukta.
News of the killing sparked protests in Pune, Dabholkar’s hometown Satara and several other parts of the State. When Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan arrived in Satara for the funeral, he was heckled by activists from Dabholkar’s movement. They demanded that the State pass the anti-superstition Bill that Dr. Dabholkar had been campaigning for.
An all-party bandh has been called in Pune on Wednesday in protest against the killing.
The police said it was a planned murder since Dr. Dabholkar was known to be in Pune only on Mondays and Tuesdays. The police said they had not received any complaints from him about threats.
His family said he received threats often but refused to ask for police protection. “He thought this was a struggle to end ignorance, and he did not need weapons to fight it,” said his son.
The police have released a sketch of one of the alleged killers and are examining CCTV footage from... the area. “We will look at all the angles, but no motive has emerged yet. Eight units of the Crime Branch have been formed for probe,” said Joint Police Commissioner Sanjeev Singhal. The police said they would also scrutinise allegations that he had received threats from extremist groups such as Sanatan Prabhat and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. The Samiti has issued a press statement condemning the killing.
Dr. Dabholkar’s associates say right-wing groups had often threatened to disrupt his press conferences. “The police should have paid heed to this,” said Shyam Manav of the All India Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, with whom Dr. Dabholkar once worked.
Dr. Dabholkar, a medical doctor, turned to social work more than two decades ago. In 1989, he set up the Maharashtra Andhrashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti to help eradicate superstition. His State-wide movement targeted godmen and superstitious practices. In recent years, he worked towards getting an anti-superstition Bill passed by the Maharashtra Assembly, but did not meet with much success. Several groups are demanding that the bill be passed to honour his memory.
Activists say the killing is a blow to the movement. “This is an attempt to suppress a democratic movement. It’s an attack on the Constitution, which asks its citizens to promote scientific temper,” said Vivek Monteiro of the All India People’s Science Network.
Dr. Dabholkar was slated to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to encourage the use of eco-friendly Ganesh idols for the coming festival. “The only tribute to Dr. Dabholkar will be to continue his work,” said Kumar Saptarishi from rationalist movement Yukrand.